Is There Common Ground with the Pro-Life Movement?

The question of abortion, or reproductive health as the Left calls it, is one of the most hotly debated issues in America today.  Now, I don’t agree with the "pro-life" view that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder.  But I respect that point of view.  And I’m ok with people having different opinions from me.  I’m even ok with staunch pro-lifers who want to spend their time and money and energy opposing abortion, just as I want to spend my time and money and energy advocating for access to it.  That’s what our system in America is designed to do.  That’s exactly how it’s supposed to work.

The problem is that the pro-life movement is not just about getting the rest of our society and legal system to agree that abortion is murder.  If it were, I’d be happy to try to find a way to compromise and see what we can come up with.  Instead, the pro-life movement has gone beyond defining the beginning of life and expanded to controlling women’s bodies and enforcing a sexist, second-class stereotype that women are stupid and our sexuality is a moral travesty.  I offer just two examples to illustrate my point.

Exhibit A: Ultrasounds.  Currently, 18 states regulate the provision of ultrasounds by abortion providers.  My favorite one is in Oklahoma, H.B.2780 (passed in 2010), which requires women to not only have an ultrasound before an abortion, but also to listen to the provider verbally describe the picture including the presence of organs, extremities, and a heartbeat.  Translation: women are stupid.  That’s really what these laws say.  If women "knew what was at stake," if they understood that they were "killing life" and if they just were "forced to confront the evidence," then they would never choose to have an abortion.  These "informed consent" laws, as they are called, are now picking up steam in pro-life-controlled Georgia and Texas.

Exhibit B: Access to contraception and comprehensive sex education.  If the pro-life movement was really concerned about decreasing the number of abortions in this country, it would work hand-in-hand with the pro-choice movement to provide contraception and family-planning services to women (particularly low-income women).  However, hard-core conservatives are convinced (bizarrely) that anything other than abstinence-only education encourages teenagers to have more sex (although let’s be honest – their real concern is teenage girls having more sex).  And so in the end, they need to pick one, right?  Either the girls will be taught abstinence, have sex anyway, and need abortions, or they will be taught to have safe sex but not end up needing to commit murder (have an abortion).  Basically, which is the greater evil – sexually active young girls, or “murder?"  If you guessed the first option, you were right. 

These are not pro-lifers I can work with, and that’s because they aren’t just pro-life – they’re anti-women.  Frankly, I’m not just a little bit shocked that there isn’t a women’s group out there that is pro-life, but is also dismayed and embarrassed at the additional lengths the so-called pro-life movement is going to in order to "put us in our place" and further destroy women’s lives. Politicians have found ways to reach across the aisle to support nuclear treaties, trade agreements, consumer protection measures, and other critically important public policies.  Is it possible to find pro-lifers we can work with?  Ones who believe life begins at conception but who aren’t looking to completely roll back women’s reproductive rights?  Should we even bother trying?

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  • I don’t know if it’s possible right now because feminists haven’t agreed on a strategy. First, feminists and people who understand the arguments you present (with which I agree), have to gather and hammer out an agenda, a strategy for re-framing the narrative, setting goals, amassing evidence and support. Then we can talk to the other side. One other suggestion I would add is that the pro-abortion people of the world need to get the AMA (American Medical Association) behind us, perhaps also the APA (American Psychological Association), AND the ABA (American Bar Association). We should also pull in support from organizations like ACLU and organizations that are expert in sex-ed (does SIECUS still exist?). IOW, we have not built our base, we have left the battle to groups like NARAL, Planned Parenthood, etc. I keep hammering on this point: if feminists and allies are going to be successful in countering and smashing to smithereens the hypocrisy of the “pro-lifers,” then we need to get out of our cozy 501(C)(3)’s and start building a real movement.

    I’m getting pretty repetitive, doncha think? Great post, btw.

  • Abigail Collazo

    Thanks for reading! I think you do make a good point. When we have some pro-choicers who are willing to compromise on some aspects of women’s reproductive health (like those that did in the health care reform bill), then perhaps it’s time we took a look in the mirror and started finding common ground within our own community.

  • LK

    No. There is no common ground with anti-abortion fanatics. This is because their goal is not merely to stop abortion — with reckless disregard for the adult human beings whose decision this rightly is — their goal is a restoration of right-wing moralism, backed by gun ownership.

    There is no arguing with fascist minds.

    We are not pro-abortion. We respect women, and their right to make intimate medical decisions about their own bodies by themselves, without the interference of government or the religious right.

    Pro-choice women have sat back for more than three decades. The anti-abortion movement has been, and will continue to be, relentless in forcing their agenda on us, until the day we fight back. We’ve been fighting in the state houses for three decades, and we have lost ground every step of the way.

    I think the right to have a safe and legal abortion will be lost before women wake up. How tragic.

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  • “Frankly, I’m not just a little bit shocked that there isn’t a women’s group out there that is pro-life, but is also dismayed and embarrassed at the additional lengths the so-called pro-life movement is going to in order to “put us in our place” and further destroy women’s lives.”

    There is:

    (Sorry if this gets posted twice; I think my comment got eaten before.)

  • This piece by Frances Kissling in Washington Post 2/20/2011 suggests that the pro-abortion movement is stuck in an outdated mindset and must make compromises with the “pro-lifers” and with the right of States to protect life. She argues that now that we know much more about fetal life, it changes the whole picture. I could mount many counterarguments, but frankly, I’m not sure it’s useful. However, I’d like to know how others respond to her thinking.

    My most incredulous response, were I face-to-face with Kissling, would be: “You’re proposing a good-faith discussion on protection of life and alternatives to abortion with people who won’t even agree to sex-education? I think you’re missing a vital connection there, friend.” Kissling was (not sure she still is) head of Catholics for Choice…hmmmmm…

  • Alohi Kekoa

    And it’s amazing to me….(will wonders never cease?)…..that people without the use of their brain keep insisting that the SEPARATE HUMAN LIFE in a mother’s womb is somehow a PART OF HER BODY and therefore, she has a ‘right’ to ‘eliminate’ that part of her body as she sees fit…..smh…..this world is going to hell in a hand basket and though I disagree with the Catholic Cultists and minions…..I have to say that as a Christian and a single mother, if I made the choice to end my daughter’s life when she was unborn… would I ever have heard her plea to NOT kill her if she had no way of telling me?!? When America stops the insanity of rationalizing the systematic killing of unborn CHILDREN…..then maybe we will get out of the crisis we’re in as a nation. Until then….I will NEVER STOP defending and protecting LIFE! Peace Out-